VANCOUVER — A long-term care home in North Vancouver that was the site of Canada's first confirmed COVID-19 death says it received a hoax call as the outbreak began that created "needless fear" and compromised health and safety.
The Lynn Valley Care Centre was also the location of the country's first known outbreak on March 6. It would become one of British Columbia's deadliest, killing 20 residents among the total 76 residents and staff infected.
The centre said Tuesday in an open letter that it received a call in the early hours of March 8 that appeared to originate from health authorities as it struggled to adapt to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
"It was scary. There was an original fear of the pandemic to begin with, obviously naturally, but it just compounded everyone's fears," Noori Shahkar, administrator for the care centre, said in an interview.
Sgt. Peter DeVries said the RCMP has arrested and released someone related to the call. However, no charges have been recommended and he did not provide any further details because he said the investigation is ongoing.
Shahker said the caller phoned the care centre directly, as well as some of the administrators, including himself.
"The caller pretended to be a health officer and they exaggerated the number of people who have tested positive in the centre and stated that because of that, they had to shut the centre down over night," Shahker said.
The caller also said residents and staff on site shouldn't leave and the next shift of staff members shouldn't come in, he said.
As a result, many staff members called home to tell their families they shouldn't expect them back, and staff members on the morning shift didn't come in. It meant some workers were on site for up to 16 hours before they got relief, he said.
The care centre was already in turmoil, having to adapt quickly at a time when very little was known about the novel coronavirus.
"Over the course of 24 hours, our facility went from its regular industry standard practices to a vastly altered series of safety measures and protocols," the open letter said.
When the hoax was revealed on March 9, it had already caused unnecessary fear among residents and their families, and apprehension among staff who became reluctant to work, the letter said.
The centre took immediate action based on information provided and by the time it learned of the hoax, a "great deal of harm" had already been done to its capacity to provide a high standard of care, it said.
"It diverted valuable time and resources away from our capacity to work at a time when we faced the greatest challenge in our centre's history. That call kicked us when we were down, really down," the letter said.
The care home said it will continue to co-operate with the RCMP.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry officially declared the end to the COVID-19 outbreak at care centre on May 5.
"LVCC has overcome COVID-19, and our facility today remains free of the dangerous virus. We commit to our residents, their families, and our staff that we will do everything in our power to keep it that way," the centre said.
Mike Farnworth, Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General, told reporters Tuesday that he hopes the suspect of the alleged call faces the full extent of the law.
"If someone engaged in this kind of activity, trying to perpetrate a hoax like this, they can expect government, law enforcement agencies to take this very, very seriously," Farnworth said.
"There's just absolutely no place for this kind of disgraceful activities in a pandemic or in fact outside a pandemic."
— By Amy Smart in Vancouver.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 21, 2020.
The Canadian Press